Wednesday, December 21, 2011


I've been working on this off and on for a while, and with the end of the year it seems appropriate to touch on setting goals. Really, everyone sets goals all the time, but when it comes to pushing themselves in a new direction, setting goals becomes very hard and may even seem mysterious.

Here's the deal - there's nothing magical about setting goals. The key is understanding what your goal is and breaking it up into parts that you can achieve.

What is a goal
This may seem silly, but seriously, a goal has a formula: there's an acronym people use SMART
  • Specific - A goal is something concrete, easily defined with very little room for ambiguity
  • Measurable - A goal can easily be measured, it's easy to know when you've reached your goal.
  • Achievable - A good goal is one that you really think you can hit, not one that you you seriously doubt is possible
  • Realistic - A good goal is one that has basis in reality, a goal to get out and start running, so you can do your first marathon at the end of the week isn't.
  • Time bound - A good goal has a defined time limit
Many people seem to confuse goals with desires. A desire is usually very undefined and almost always lofty. For example, you may say your goal is to be skinny. That goal fails several of the SMART tests. You could rephrase that and say that your goal is to loose five founds in two months.That goal passes all of the SMART tests. I find that usually desires are made up of several goals. So you may desire to be skinny, and then you come up with several goals that will help you get there.

My Example Goal
I use goals to drive me all the time in almost all aspects of my life. So I figure I'll layout one of my goals for my next triathlon season and then break it down.

Goal - Finish one race in the top 5 in my age group at a sprint distance. Test it
  • Specific - Not really, top 5 depends on the race. If I define this no better I will have no idea how to get to this goal.
  • Measurable - Yes
  • Achievable - Maybe, depends on how much better I have to get
  • Realistic - Maybe, it depends on how close the goal I am already
  • Time Bound - This season, it's not very specific. Seriously, I'm already of thinking of putting off starting this till July. We'll say, not time bound enough :)
I'll call this one a dream for right now. First I need to get specific. The race that is closest to me, and the first triathlon I ever did is as good an option as any. So, I choose the Lakefront Days triathlon. It's not scheduled yet, but it's the same weekend as Lakefront days which is 8/4. I've chosen a race, and know exactly when I will need to be ready for it. There's still some room for specifics, as right now I have no idea how fast top 5 is.

This season I'll be in the 35 as far as USAT is concerned. Top 5 times in that age group: 1:16:16, 1:16:17, 1:17:36, 1:19:22, 1:19:37

So now I know exactly what my goal is. Finish the lakefront days triathlon in under 1:19:37. Now sure, that may not ensure a top 5 finish, but then again I don't have control over the other racers, so I will have to settle with a very concrete goal to shoot for.

Is this achievable? Last year I finished the race in 1:19:41. That's only 4 seconds, very achievable, this also makes this a realistic goal.

Re-evaluate your goals
So here's the deal, this goal has become too easy to get. I could pick up 5 seconds by just streamlining transition. Last year a got a little confused in the second transition, and I actually turned around and went back to my stuff to pick something up. If I only want to shave 5 seconds I could just skip that little step. So I'm going to say that my new goal is to win the age group. That's a 3:21 jump.

Is this goal achievable? Well I need to break it down a little more to see, I'm probably not going to pick it all up in the same place. Here are my detailed stats about this race from last year
Swim 1/4 mile - 6:41 that's 1:31 per hundred yards
T2 - 2:32. That includes a jog from the lake to the transition area
Bike 13.5 miles - 40:58 that's 19.8 miles per hour
T2 - 1:27
Run 3.3 miles - 28:06 that's 8:31 per mile

To drop 3:21 from that I'll have to pull from all segments
Swim - 1:25 pace. That puts me at 6:14, there's 27 seconds.
Bike - 20.75 mph. That puts the bike at 39:02, there's 1:56
Run - 8:20 mins/mile. That puts the run at 27:30, there's another 36 seconds

So that adds up to 2:59. I will need to make up 20 seconds on transitions. It is no exaggeration that if I drop 10 seconds in each transition I will still be slower than most people.

The swim - that's a very fast pace. But swimming is by far my strongest leg, I held that close to the old pace for just over a mile last year at Maple Grove, so if I can hold that pace for a mile, I can pick up the pace for a quarter of a mile without worrying about taking it out too fast.

The bike - that will be my fastest bike split to date. But this is near the end of the season, and I know I can ride that fast. I just need to transition that knowledge to a race. I am confident I can do this.

The run - again at Maple Grove I held that old pace for twice as long. Plus my fastest 5k time is a full three minutes faster than that, so I can gut it out.

I'm going to call this both achievable and realistic.

Some extra notes
When setting goals, don't go crazy. It is very easy to go nuts making goals for every single little thing in your life, or every tiny detail. I took a desire and turned it into 4 very specific goals, and it just so happens I need to chain those together in rapid succession. If you were doing your first duathlon, your goal may simply be to finish. But you still need to the do rest.
  • Specific - Choose a specific duathlon
  • Measurable - If you finish you will have met your goal
  • Achievable - Choose one that is in your ability level. Shy away from one that is longer than you like to drive per day
  • Realistic - A sprint distance duathlon, as long as you can walk and ride a bike, you'll be fine
  • Time bound - Sign up for that race, it puts an exact date you need to be done by
Re-evaluate your goals often. As you make progress toward your goal, you may realize that your goal needs to be adjusted. Perhaps finishing isn't the goal anymore, maybe now the goal is to jog instead of walk. Keeping your goals something you have to work toward, while still in the realms of possibilities, will keep you motivated.

Don't beat yourself up. Occasionally you will fail to meet your goal. Don't worry about it, last year I set several running goals that I totally biffed on, not even close. So I just set my eyes on the next one. It wouldn't be a goal if it was easy to do. Honestly, winning my age group on Lakefront days will be a huge accomplishment for me, there is a chance of failure, but that's what keeps me going.

Do it
We're about a week away from the new year. Make your resolutions, and then break them up in to goals. I'd say a year-long resolution probably has six to twelve intermediate goals. Keep focused on your goals, and when you look up at the end of the year, I'm betting you will have tackled that resolution head on. You can do it!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Impromptu 5k

Today my wife and I ran a 5k in St. Paul. This winter she's building a base for her first half marathon in Fargo, and a 5k now and then is helping her keep motivated and see the fruits of her labor. Now normally we don't run together, because in the past I've been training for running races too, and we just have different paces. But for this race she wasn't sure she wanted to run it because it was cold, and her running buddy from the last couple of races just wasn't up to it. But Friday I caller her up and said 'hey, let's do this, the weather will be fine and I'll run it with you.' So it was a done deal.

The race is the Dredel Dash put on by the St. Paul Jewish Community Center, since we decided to do the race on Friday, and the race is on Sunday, we did not pre-register :)

Race Morning
The plan had been to get up and go to church and then make our way to the race. Well, I stayed up 3 with our baby and some frustrating stuff I've been working on. The last thing I did though was send my wife and email and said "it's late, but wake me up anyway." But it turned out it didn't really matter, the kids slept in and my wife and sister-in-law didn't get up in time. So we didn't make it to church, and off to St. Paul for a quick run. The race started at 1, we got there at 11 to register. Registration went really well, my wife stayed in the car to feed our youngest, and I went in to register us both. I, probably predictably, went in the wrong door, but they had volunteers in the building guiding people to the right place. It was very cool. So I got us registered and it was 11:30 - that's way too much time to kill with 3 littles who are hungry. So we went to grab a bite to eat.

The Start
After we got some food, we found our way to the start line. A sort of unique feature of this 5k, at least as far as any 5k I've ever done is that it's point to point. There are actually three races going on, a 5k, a 10k, and a 1 mile fun run. The 10k is an out and back on the same course as the 5k, which is probably how they came up with the idea of the point to point. We lingered around the starting line, it was about 40 degrees with a slight breeze, talked to some people who were there, and watched some of the faster 10k runners run through. As is common with smaller races, when they finally started talking about the start I couldn't hear anything they were saying. But seriously, it was probably the normal, "everyone have a great race, remember to run between the people telling you to run between them :)" An unusual feature is that they sang the national anthem. At least I can't remember being at a race that did that, it was pretty cool.

Waiting for the start
The Run
The run was pretty good, there weren't a zillion people which I have found can be a double edged sword. On the one hand the race isn't mobbed, on the other hand they tend to be heavy with fast runners. Luckily this race wasn't like that. We settled into a good pace and just enjoyed the ride, some people in front, some people behind us. One cool thing about this run was that every single road was completely closed off. For a race this size I was surprised, there were some not-totally main streets, but also not side streets. I mean I think there were only like 300 racers, so that was a nice touch. One thing I did notice that struck me as odd was there was only one water stop, and it was for 10k runners. Now in all fairness I didn't notice until I finally got my paws on some water and noticed how thirsty I was, so it couldn't have been that bad.

About half way through - all smiles :)
The Finish
We knew we were pretty much on the pace we wanted to do. My wife was on her way to a new PR, and it was fun to be part of that. About 100 yards till the end we saw our kids and my sister-in-law on the side of the road cheering. Our oldest ran right out and headed toward the finish line, she didn't even pretend like she wanted to run with us. And she was booking, so I took off after her while my wife slowed down to run in with our son. Our best estimation about that is that he didn't know he would have the opportunity to run with mom or dad, but when his sister took off he felt left out :)

My wife and our son running across the finish
We finished, realized there was no finisher award and headed inside for the after race festivities. They had some good food, cookies, bananas, muffins and water. So we sat down, had some food and then headed home. There were supposed to be a lot of other stuff going on, but it was busy, and honestly I smelled like a locker room.

Enjoying some post-race snacks
Final Thoughts
This was a pretty good race. A good small race, and I had a great time running with my wife. She had a great run and was able to see that all of the running she's been doing is started to pay off. I'm very proud of her.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Getting out in the cold

It's starting to get cold out there. At our house we have three runners and two three kids under 5. So treadmill time is a premium. Also with the cold weather come fewer daylight running hours. It's dark when I get up, it's dark when I get home.

Considering last year I ran outside all year long, it's really tempting to let the cold weather and scheduling differences keep me from getting out there. But I've gone out for some runs anyway. Mostly now I'm doing my weekday runs over lunch at work, and the weekend runs during the day.

I read once that you should try to get out during inclement weather because it prepares you mentally for the future. I like that, a little cold weather won't kill me, and if I get a little exposure to sub-optimal weather, when I get great weather I'll be super happy, and when I get less desirable weather...meh :)

Honestly, if it's much above 30 it's a no brainier for me the cool weather means that I'm not sweating as much and as a result the run is pretty nice. I did have to convince myself to go out when it's colder. I did some reading, and the general consensus I ran into was, why not. It's not going to kill you.

So I went out for a cooler run the other day
At the start
At the end - it started warming up :)
Honestly except for about a half mile stretch I was fine. It wasn't uncomfortable at all. The half mile stretch was along a four lane road with no wind protection. And I swear, my nose got so cold that I had to stop and warm it up with my breath.

The wind was coming from the south, this loop is about three miles

The Getup

The gear
Here's my thinking
  • Hat to keep my head and ears warm
  • Gloves to keep my fingers warm
  • Tech tee as the bottom top layer - to keep my dry when I started sweating
  • Long sleeve T (cotton) on the top layer to provide some wind protection
  • Thermal tights - to keep me dry when sweating
  • Wind pants - more wind protection
Put a wicking layer of clothing next to your skin. It will help pull your sweat away from you (and you will be sweating) so it doesn't have time to get super cold.

On your torso, which isn't getting a huge amount of work, put a wind-breaking layer on top of your base. That will keep the wind from chilling you to the bone.

Same deal on the bottom, without the wind I would have gone without the wind-pants because your legs are doing all of the work, and can keep themselves pretty warm.

Hat and gloves are, in my opinion, a neccessity. Your hands and head aren't super great at keeping themselves warm, and the last thing you want is frozen fingers.

Choose a route that has decent wind protection. Usually I'd do that run with basically an out and back on the big road, but I know it's like a little prairie out there, so I tried to avoid it. It was basically an experiment, and now I know, avoid direct wind if you can.

There are a couple of things I would have changed.
  • Tuck in one of my shirts. When the wind would pick up I would get some super cold shots of air up my shirt. Not super awesome.
  • Wear my watch on the outside of my shirt. Wearing it against my skin left me with some undesirable exposed skin. It wasn't terrible, but easy to prevent.
  • Try harder to stay out of the wind. The coldest parts of the run were running directly into the wind, or letting it blow across me for a sustained period of time.
  • If it gets much colder than that, I'm going to invest in something to put on my face. The nose thing wasn't super terrible, but it was bad enough to make me stop for a few seconds.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Trinona 2012

Trinona 2011 was my first race last year in Minnesota, also my first Olympic distance race, so it has a special place in my heart.

I enjoy following the specticle that this race carries, they make commercials, they do fun little things that add a little spice to the race. This weekend during Kona coverage they will have a new commercial on TV (Saturday between 3:30 - 5:00 central on NBC and likely only locally)

I have to admit, the bluff destroyed me last year. It was very challenging, and not in that "this is too challenging way" because there are plenty of people who passed me on the way up. If you're looking for a fun race with a monster climb, hit it up.

I probably won't be doing this race this year, I am planning on having my first half iron distance on the same day. But I will enjoy following this race, and maybe I'll try to beat the hill next year.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

New Terms

While preparing my training schedule this year I have pulled from a variety of sources and along the way have been picking up new terminology that is, apparently, used by other people to describe how they train.

First, let me review the terminology I used last year.
  • Race pace - The goal speed during the race
  • Run - Go for a run not quite as fast as race pace
  • Tempo - Go for a bike/run slightly faster than race pace but for less distance
  • Intervals - Go for a bike/run with high intensity parts mixed in with low intensity recovery parts
  • Hills - Go for a bike and spend most of the time going up and down a relatively steep grade hill
My understanding of these terms has not changed, and I think I, at least understood how to, use them correctly to make gains in my performance.

Some new terms I've picked up
  • RPE - Rating of Perceived Exertion. A method of planning that allows you to understand how hard you should be pushing yourself. There are a couple of scales, but the one I have adopted is 1-10 because it fits in my worldview, and a scale that starts at 6 is confusing. The following explanation is my paraphrasing of (
    • 0 is no effort
    • 2-3 normal training effort
    • 5 is a hard effort, likely race-pace
    • 7-8, interval effort
    • 10 is maximum effort, you cannot hold this pace for long at all, maybe a sprint at the end of a race
  • Strides - A gradual acceleration over a relatively short distance. For example, every five minutes you go from your normal training effort to close to max effort over the course of 20 seconds, then back to normal.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

This marketing worked - on me - sort of

Yesterday I ran across this video for SRAM RED. Now I'm no bike pro, and while I do know what components one of my bikes has on it, I am not totally sure what this is advertising.

However, I do like this ad. And it does make me want what they are selling - and not in that "Late night infomercial way"

Friday, December 2, 2011

November Training Notes

This month my totals look like this

Swim0 yards0 hours
Bike0 miles0 hours
Run17.22 miles3:00 hours

After 2.5 months off I am slowly getting back into the swing of things. There's still a little more than a month before I really start to apply some structure, so for now I'm just getting my legs under me and starting to try to cement my plans and goals for the year.

Zero - I'm planning on a January start

Zero - I cannot imagine riding my bike when it's only 25 degrees, and it's dark when I get up and come home from work. So... I'm thinking trainer, and I'm shooting for January start.

I'm just doing easy runs for 2-3 miles at a time. Actually I just go out for 30 minutes at a time and I go as far as my legs will take me in that time. Also, I've started doing my runs at work, the next step is to convince some of the people I work with to run with me. That will be fun.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Day 1 or I Couldn't Handle It Any More!

So way back at the end of August I did my last race of the season. At that point I said, 'this is my last race this year, I am doing nothing for 3.5 months and pick it up again in January.' Well, that didn't last; it's surprising to me how hard it was to not do anything. Almost immediately my wife's uncle invited me to a 100 mile bike ride with him and his riding group, and there are 5ks and half marathons and 10ks. But I held steady, I forced myself to take the break I was looking forward to.

I recommend a break like this to everyone. Sure you can train all year long, but the break is sweet, and while sometimes I itched to just get a quick run or bike in, most of the time I enjoyed not doing it.

It all came to an end today. Sometime last week I had finally had enough, I was tired of not do anything, and I had started to piece together my early year training plan and it started with me being in better shape than sitting on the couch for 3 months. Also my everyone else who lives in my house have done a few 5ks recently, and that has made me look forward to my own races next year. I would have started earlier in the week, but our newest baby had different plans. My wife and I alternated staying up to the wee hours of the night with her, and that took place of getting back in the saddle.

So today, a little run; it was nothing special, a quick 30 minutes on the treadmill. I have been saying that I was going to try to get outside and run during the winter despite the cold weather. But you know what, 19 is cold, and I am sort of convinced that the sidewalks I usually run on turn into snowmobile trails when it snows, and it has snowed recently. So instead of braving the cold weather only to find out my usual route is teaming with snowmobiles, I opted to hit the treadmill. That's fine, it went fine, it felt very good to get the heart rate up.

Early Race Schedule
Over the last couple of months, I've mapped out a race schedule for the coming year. I haven't really committed to anything yet, but basically it boils down to

  • Two 70.3
  • One half marathon
  • Several sprints
  • Several Olympic
  • Tentatively - one end of year marathon
We're also tossing around the idea of a trip to FL for some very late season races with my sister and our friends down there. That's still in the drawing board phase; my wife has a marathon in October that she's going to be shooting for, and she may not want a few weeks in FL stuck right near the end.

Training Plans
My training plan consists of two phases. First build confidence for the 70.3. I have an early season one picked out and a later season one. I will spend the first couple months building endurance for the first race which is the same day as my first Minnesota race last year. During this time I will do a half marathon with my family, a 5k with the family, and a couple of tune up sprints.

After the first 70.3 I expect to re-evaluate that plan and see what I might need to work on. There are a couple of months between the first and second and I will use that time to address anything I think needs to be addressed. I will also use that time to address my other major goals which consist of speed work and transition practice. 

The Immediate Future
I am planning on using this time until about mid January to just get my body ready for the full time training to start. That also gives our youngest some time to get on the regular sleeping schedule. She's being a baby, and baby's do this. I didn't commit to a much more significant training program because she's a baby, so if she needs me to stay up till 3, then that's what I'll do and maybe it will fit in with my plans or maybe it won't, but family trumps triathlon every day.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Tri Bike vs. Road Bike Or Race to Place vs. Race to Race

Over the last two years of doing triathlons, at some point people started talking about triathlon specific bikes. And I notice that a lot of people that pass me are riding really nice bikes, and when I look them up they're sport specific. I have wondered to myself (and really anyone who will listen) if a sport specific bike is more mental than actual. Does a bike really make that much of a difference?

My Current Bike
I have a mid-range road bike. It's a Giant TCR II from 2003, it's got an aluminum alloy frame with Shimano 105 components, it came with a set of Mavic rims, and Michelin Pro Race 3 tires. Overall this bike has treated me very well. I got it when I upgraded from my first hybrid bike, and to be honest I think it's a pretty decent bike. I just wanted a bike that would let me go out and get some mileage without killing myself. Because let's face it, it's a lot more satisfying to ride 15 miles in an hour instead of an hour and a half.

For the uninitiated, the difference between a decent road bike and a hybrid bike is difficult to describe. But imagine that when you step on the pedals on your bike it responds as if all of that effort you just put into pushing the pedal is directly translated into forward progress. They're lighter, they are less cushy, they absorb less of the energy put into them (both by you and the road - so a more bumpy ride :) It is basically like upgrading from a sedan to a sports car.

I've had this bike since about May 2004 - so it's the only bike I've used in my triathlons. The only upgrade I've made to this bike is to go through two GPS bike computers, and put on a pair of clip-on aero bars. Up until recently I've been reluctant to think about getting a triathlon specific bike. Really for three reasons
  1. The bike does not make the rider. If I can't muster a decent speed on a decent road bike, plunking down a few thousand for a new bike isn't going to catapult me onto the podium
  2. I was not convinced that there was significant difference between a road bike and a triathlon bike
  3. If you're going to throw down a bunch of money on a bike you'd better either be committed to the sport, or have tons of extra money laying around. And I do not fall into the second category :)
What Makes a Tri Bike Different
When scouring the internet you can find many descriptions of what makes a tri bike different. First things first, it's not obsenly lighter than a road bike, in fact it may weigh more. It's also not even really any more expensive than a road bike. But they are designed differently - the purpose of the two bikes is a lot different.

Triathlon is a non-drafting sport, meaning that when you ride your bike you're not allowed to ride close enough to someone else to benefit from their presence. In a bike race, or even group ride, drafting is part of the deal. Riding in a group has a major impact on the amount of wind resistance you have to deal with. Riding within two or three feet of even just one other person is significantly easier than being out on your own. So the triathlon bikes are designed to help you cut through the wind. This is accomplished in a couple of ways
  • Aero bars - Instead of putting your hands on your bars and riding around in a more or less upright position you bend WAY over and put your forearms on the bars. The biggest factor in a bikes wind resistance is the huge piece of meat sitting on it. So the goal here is to get that big sail of a body tucked in a nice small ball that is resembles an arrow more than a flapping wall. One side effect of this position, it's uncomfortable for extended periods. If you can't hold this position, you're likely to plop back up on your hands and "engage the meat parachute"
  • Bike Geometry - To solve the problem of aero bars being uncomfortable, the way the bike is built is different. Basically, a tri bike pushes your whole body forward on the bike. The result is that it's more comfortable to ride in that tucked position for longer. It also changes what muscles you use to power the bike. Now it's very easy for me to write that, I have read it a hundred times. I have also heard more technical descriptions. A tri bike has a steeper seat tube angle, a shorter top tube, and a shorter head tube. Oh yeah, that's the stuff, just imagine that in your head.
  • Aero components - Things are tapered and tucked to get out of the wind. When you look at an extreme aero bike head on it's very skinny. Heck, when you see them from the side they look all jammed together.

I was convinced it was all just marketing, "Hey put your rear up here and you'll be winning Kona in no time! The seat tube is steeper, how can you help but go a million miles an hour?!" I mean seriously, why can't someone put together a nice graphic to show me how a tri-specific setup is different. Or show me some real numbers about how riding a tri bike is somehow faster than riding a road bike in normal tri conditions (e.g., by yourself.) It must mean it's all hype, and as I like to say, don't believe the hype.

So I finally found an article that shows bike geometry differences and while I don't like the graphic they have because the bikes look the same with just different words written on them, here's my graphic that shows those two bikes on top of each other.

Blue = Tri Geometry
Red = Standard Geometry
So there we have it, a tri bike definitely moves you forward on the frame, apparently to the tune of 70/30 split instead of 50/50 weight distribution. Some of the side effects are stability and handling, but if you're riding by yourself and basically in a straight line - who cares right? Other side effects include comfort in the aero position and using different leg muscles to turn the cranks. The goal is to go as fast as you can while cutting down on the effort to do it. Because when you're done with your amazingly fast bike leg, you need to hop off and do another fast running leg.

So how much benefit do aero bars give you (and the position they put you in?) Again, there are lots of anecdotal conversations, and I personally feel like it's actually more comfortable, but I wanted to see some actual numbers. And then I found this guy basically doing the comparison I wanted. The numbers are a little tricky, because he does things like sets up a road bike with aero bars, but then doesn't use them. At first I was frustrated by this, but then I realized that in fact after about 10 miles of riding I get up off my aero bars to stretch my back, so you could say that a road bike with aero bars at some point or another will force you out of aero into the normal riding position. If you look at his last little graph, he basically says that the difference between a road bike and a full on tri-bike is 3 miles per hour (for a guy who is already averaging 25 miles per hour.) That article is basically contending that an aero road bike may suffice as your triathlon bike, but if you buy the argument that a tri bike is more suited for triathlons due to it's different geometry then what you gather from this is that the aero position clearly has big benefits.

So it's clear that a tri-bike isn't just hype. They are designed for a different sport, and that design can have great benefits. So the question is, when should I get one?

Tri Bike or Road Bike
This conversation is as old as the bikes I'm comparing. If you search the internet for this topic it's full of opinion and comparisons. It almost always boils down to a few points
  • The bike doesn't make the rider. A good rider can go fast on any decent bike, so if you're just looking for speed then look in the mirror. I read this as - if all you want is speed spend more time on the bike you have.
  • Don't bother with a tri bike if you're not going to be doing a lot of triathlons. A tri bike is a great bike, but its designed for triathlons which are ridden basically by yourself on mostly flat terrain with a small number of turns. If you're planning on lots of group rides, or rides with challenging climbs or lots of twists and turns, then a tri bike is not for you
I am a personal believer in the first point. When I started riding this season my average speed was in the mid to low 17s,  I would be happy to be able to hold 18 for 10 miles. When I ended the season I was up over 19 miles per hour. To put that in perspective, the people who usually podium in my age group average around 21 to 22 miles per hour. So let's say I had run out and bought a tri bike at the end of last year, and for arguments sake let's say it made me 2 miles per hour faster. So without any additional work I would have been .. where I am. Except a little poorer.

I am also a believer on the second point. I am not someone who jumps on a wagon as soon as it starts going. Before this season I had done four triathlons the year before, and one before that. So to buy a tri bike at the start of this season seemed a little premature. What if I got back to MN and the tri scene was non-existant or my motivation died? That would have been pretty rediculous.

I actually believe I'm now getting dialed in on those two big points. I have completed 10 triathlons, and have a tentative race schedule planned for next year that has 17 potential races on it. I have also seen significant gains in my overall speed, and my goal is to get very close to being able to close that bike speed gap next starting with the base I developed this year.

So I'm sold, clearly a tri bike is more than just a set of aero bars and some nice wheels. They can bring you a lot of speed if you use it right, and if you're racing to win and are going to be doing it for the foreseeable future, it's probably worth the investment.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Triathlon Training - By Me

So I follow a bunch of blogs from various triathletes ranging from pro to age groupers, though I am by far the least experienced and slowest. The one thing I always wished I knew was how these people were training. I did read a great blog entry once about reading how other people train. It went something like this: When you're reading about someone else's races or training keep in mind that you are not them. And while some guy may run 10 miles at a pace you can't hold for one mile you should not feel bad about that. Train your own way, and try to pick up some tips from wherever you can.

So here's how I trained this year.

My weekly schedule was pretty much set.
MondaySwim am (2,800 - 3,600 yards). Bike pm (18 - 35 miles)
TuesdayShort run  pm (3 miles)
WednesdaySwim am (2,800 - 3,600 yards). Long run (7 miles) or focused bike workout (e.g., hills, tempo, intervals)
ThursdayBike pm (18 - 35 miles)
FridaySwim am (2,800 - 3,600 yards)
SaturdayBike run brick. (Bike 20-50 miles, run 3-7 miles - don't rest much between bike and run)

For my swim training I joined a masters swimming program ( it's a great group. The coach has lots of experience both coaching and swimming, and he has done a great job nurturing this group. I had been a part of this group with my wife about four years ago, and while the group has definitely grown in that time, it is also neat to see that there are lots of people still there. It's a testament to the quality of the group.

From a training perspective, joining a good group provides many things. First a good coach can put together some really great workouts. They will do distance sets, sprint sets and sort of "resting days." A good coach will also pay attention to your stroke, and help you tweak your stroke on the fly. And since I come back three times a week they can keep seeing it and keep reminding me. Swimming with a larger group gives me motivation to get better, to train better so I can be better. I would definitely recommend people find a masters group no matter what their skill level.

I don't really do any open water swims, mainly because the lakes are cold, and I haven't been able to find many local people to swim with. Since swimming is my strong point I don't worry about it. Many people do try to get in some open water swims though.

Prior to this summer my bike training consisted of just going out and biking. I'd maybe throw in the occasional interval workout with .25 mile fast, .75 mile soft pedaling. The main problem with that was that I was almost always training alone, and never went much further than 10 miles.

So this summer I found a bike group to ride with ( again, it's a great group to be a part of. There are about 100 members and at any given day there are anywhere between 20 and 50 riders split up among five groups. The groups range in speed anywhere from 13 mph average to 20+ so there's a place for anyone. The group really gave me a variety of things, they knew the local  routes that are bike friendly, they knew how to string together a 20 mile ride on the fly, they knew how to turn an easy ride into a challenging ride, and because the skill range is so large they were always pushing me.

While riding in a group is totally different than riding in a triathlon (drafting for one) simply being in the group on a regular basis makes you a better rider. You can watch good riders, people can offer up tips, you get experience riding close to other riders which really helps with your bike handling.

The one thing this bike group doesn't offer is any sort of speed work. It's really just go out and bike as hard as you want for a bunch of miles. So I tried to augment those two weekly rides with another mid-week ride where I would toss in some hill repeats or speed work. In theory this would work great, the reality was that it didn't work out that well. I did it a few times, but in the end I just didn't stick to it.

So two years ago when all of this started I couldn't run a mile. So I did couch to 5k. The following summer I worked on shorter runs and tried to throw in tempo and interval runs in. I mainly did that because I still was having trouble running three miles straight, so instead of just running out of steam on a three miles I wanted to have a different excuse (e.g., I didn't run the whole time because I was really hitting the intervals hard.)

After that summer my wife and sister got me signed up for a couple of half marathons. Over the course of that training I (obviously) got my mileage way up over 3 miles. I was also peppering in some speed work, because I had set some goals to get faster than I was. This training was instrumental toward me being a better runner, I dropped my run times almost a minute per mile, and now a three mile run is an easy run, and I do six or seven miles without really putting too much thought into it.

Things that could use more focus
  • Bike speed work and hills. Whenever anyone talks about building speed (bike, running, swimming) intervals is where it's at. I've also read that if you're running short on time and can't put together two hours for mileage that a shorter hill workout is a great substitute.
  • Running - I need to work on speed (more intervals) and form. I know I have a slight heel strike, and I would not be surprised to find out there's something else I could tweak. It's not uncommon (in my life) for someone to comment on my running, and not as in that 'you look great' way :)
  • Transitions - I literally have never practiced a transition. I pay attention to articles and what other people suggest. But I think it's coming down to trying some new techniques and just practicing.
The one thing that I am really missing from my training this summer is a good group of triathletes to hook up with. I got supremely spoiled while in FL because I was able to hook up with an excellent group of people ( It is a fantastic group of people covering a wide variety of skill levels from total newbies (like I was) to top age-group finishers and iron distance veterans. I knew it was a good group when I found it, but I really miss that now that I'm in MN. I'm hoping to connect with a few more people close to where I live, it's just that one extra thing that I could use.

    Friday, September 9, 2011

    Season Training Notes

    I started training for the tri season in April this year.

    Swim yards26:40 hours
    Bike1,207 miles56:42 hours
    Run233 miles22:52 hours

    This season started immediately after my running season, which started immediately after last tri season. The goals going into this year were to start at least as good as last year and then later I decided to focus on the bike.

    I did some light swimming in March and April - nothing really that structured. I really hit the pool starting in May. Almost all of these yards are in the pool as part of a team, the coach kept pushing me out of my comfort zone, and while I didn't get much faster, it did have lots of benefits.

    I really hit the bike hard this year, it was clearly the focus with almost twice as much time training on it than anything else. I found a good group to ride with, and that really helped a lot. I also made a point (at least early in the summer) to put in some long rides (e.g., 40 miles or more) because I was going for larger events and didn't want to just die on the bike just because I hadn't ever ridden that far.

    Having just come off a running season where I had dropped my run pace by almost a full minute I was feeling really good about that so I pretty much put the run on maintenance mode. I had turned some of my running days in to short bike days, and stuff like that.

    Monday, September 5, 2011

    August Training Notes

    This month my totals look like this

    Swim8,500 yards2:30 hours
    Bike216 miles11:32 hours
    Run37 miles5:25 hours

    So last month I was lamenting how hard it was to get up and go swimming. This month it shows. I am actually surprised to see the run and bike numbers so high, though I did have two races in this month, and when I would miss a swim I would try to make it up with some running.

    That many yards really equates to about 4 workouts, it's always hard for me to get up, but when you've got a new baby at home and you're already sort of tired from that it's even harder. Plus I was pretty much done last month mentally :(

    The biking miles stayed pretty flat, I wasn't feeling particularly strong on the bike, but my wife kept pushing me out the door to get in the miles. She's great!

    So I was worried about the running all summer. I made a decision to prioritize the bike over the run, and that's what I did, and in the end it all worked out. Again, the extra miles came from days when I would miss the swim, but then take some time to get out and run.

    Thursday, September 1, 2011

    Tri Season Notes

    This season I did 5 triathlons, three sprints and two Olympics.This season marks my second full season of races. So here's how it lined up.

    Spring Training (Sprint)6:581:3531:4418.528:219:27
    Egg Hunt (Sprint)9:052:0434:1417.529.489:35
    Trinona (Olympic)23:111:251:27:3217.857.469:17
    Lake Front Days (Sprint)6:411:3140:5819.828:068:30
    Maple Grove (Olympic)25:591:351:22:3319.253:038:32

    What I see
    • Egg Hunt swim is an anomaly, either the course is longer than advertised, or the timing mat is way after you get out.
    • Trinona is the only wetsuit swim, it's also my fastest pace. The wetsuit makes a big difference.
    • Other than that the swimming training adds a less tangible benefit in the form of confidence and overall conditioning for the rest of the race.
    • Spring training tri is likely an anomaly again, my guess is the bike course isn't as long as they say it is
    • After that you can see that the bike legs get significantly faster. Summer time group rides really go a long way to building up speed.
    • The first three races all had walking in them. The first two I just couldn't muster the strength to handle it. The third I had some sort of back cramp. The last two I was able to run the whole way through.
    • Even without lots of run training my times came down. This is likely due to overall conditioning brought on by hard swimming and biking and just keeping the running up.
    • Holding the same pace on a 5k and a 10k probably means I could have pushed the run leg faster in Lake front days race. Especially since the longer race had five little hills in it.
    It's surprising to me that all my swimming training didn't have a more noticeable impact on times. But it does provide a lot of confidence. I would not have had the guts to tackle the longer distances without taking time to put in the yards. It also takes away the fear of draining my energy on the shorter races.

    The bike work has a very noticeable impact on times, it basically boils down to a 2 mph gain over the course of the summer.

    The big surprise of this summer is how the run has come along. I really was just putting in the miles and not thinking much about building speed; I did maybe one tempo run all summer.

    Next Season
    So the goals for next season line up like this
    • Start the season in as good or better shape than where I finished.
    • Add another 1 or 2 mph on the bike. If I can get average speed up over 20 mph consistently that will help a lot
    • Bring the run pace down. When people talk about going fast on the run they are thinking around six minutes average. When I talk about it I'm thinking around 8 minutes, 8:30 if I'm doing a triathlon. That needs to come WAY down.
    • Practice transitions. They are finally starting to hurt me. Adding two minutes in transition is like running an extra 1/4 mile, or 3/4 mile on the bike.
    • I'm also going to try to fit in at least one half iron distance event.
    This season is over for me. I am taking a pretty long break, my goal is to take it easy for the next 3.5 months. I'll pick it up again in January.

    Monday, August 29, 2011

    Race Review - Maple Grove Olympic Triathlon

    This was my first time at this race, and my second time doing this distance. The overall goal was to feel good about the distance, not feel like it had killed me, and secondly to do better - timewise - as I had done in the first Olympic. I figured that would actually be pretty easy since the first race was way hillier than this one.

    A note about this event: It's actually three races at one venue at the same time. A sprint distance, an Olympic distance, and a new event called Tri-Star which is a triathlon with a very heavy bike focus, which is apparently popular in Europe, but this was the first US Tri-Star event.

    The Training
    In August I put 3-4 hours of training a week. We had a baby in the second week, and that dominated the rest of it. So really I'm thinking 3 - 4 hours is pretty decent, though it did make me wonder about my ability to handle this race at the pace I wanted to handle it.

    Packet Pickup
    Packet pickup was available the day before the race at the race site. I have two thoughts on this, one is that it's a good thing it wasn't raining or something. That would have sucked, mostly because of the second thought. The second thought is that you cannot drive right up to the race site because it's at a public park, and the parking lot is used for transition so you can't park there. The result is that you park (possibly) at a different entrance, or maybe at a school that is a few blocks away, and then trek to packet pickup. I dislike this - mainly because of all of the walking involved. But also because I have three little kids, and they didn't want to take the walk, so they ended up playing somewhere else.

    The one plus side is that it gave me a chance to check out the transition area and try to figure out some of the questions I had about the race (like where the bike leg started, and which direction the run went.) I eventually did figure all of that out - this whole process took about 30 minutes. Actual packet pickup took about 2 minutes, the rest of the time was me walking around trying to find the transition area or figure it out.

    After that we drove the bike course, I wondered what it looked like and from maps I had looked at I wondered what the intersections looked like.

    Race Morning
    I had a terrible time sleeping the night before, I think I got about 3.5 hours of sleep. I got up at 4:15, got dressed, remembered that I had forgotten my swim cap, had some breakfast and was out the door by 4:50. Originally my plan was to leave a little after 5, but sometime the night before I decided I wanted to be able to get to the transition area early enough to be able to decide where I wanted to put my bike instead of just getting stuck with whatever was left.

    The transition area is split up by wave. I really like that. It gives you an assigned area, but also gives you a chance to see who you will be racing against. That setup also gives you a chance to gauge your position in your age group during the race by looking at what bikes are already in your area. Granted my wave didn't correspond to my age-group completely, but it was close enough. My age group is 30-34, and the wave handled 15-34, but the heat itself wasn't that large, and as far as I could tell there weren't any 15-year-olds :)

    The transition are was very large, this was the largest race I had been a part of, there were 22 waves to handle about 1,000 people. I felt extremely fortunate to have my rack be right in the middle. My bike was about half way between the swim/run exit and the bike exit. It would not have been fun to tack another 400 yards of running every time I was in transition to get to the back and get my junk.

    After getting transition setup and chipped, and marked, I had some time to just sit and watch the crowd, it's my favorite way to start a race, nice and relaxed. Although it's quite a bit more fun when someone else is there to chat with. This was my first race that I was competing "alone" as in I didn't personally know anyone in the race.

    The Swim
    There were three waves before me, Tri-Star pro, Tri-star age group (there were only about 100 tri-star competitors), and Olympic elite. Chris McCormick (Macca) was there doing the Tri-star race, it was sort of interesting to see that. The only time during the race I saw him was getting out the water, he was destroying the field of pros at that point.

    A note about the course: Because there were three races going on, except for the run there were also three difference distances for everything (Tri-Star 1k, 100k, 10k. Sprint .25m, 13m, 3m. Olympic: 1.5k, 40k, 10k.) The swim course was a great example of how much this can suck. I can tell you for sure that nobody would be able to confidently tell you just by looking in the lake who was swimming where and in what direction they would be going. There were big orange buoys, little yellow ones, big yellow ones, and giant white ones. At the pre-race meeting they did a great job of describing the course, but in all seriousness they need to rethink the buoy setup for next year.

    I didn't have any idea how I would place in my wave. Part of me was worried about my conditioning and worried that I would fade and then have people running over me. The other part of me reasoned that two weeks of weak training can't undo a summer's worth of training. So at first I lined up in the back, and then with a minute to go I moved to the front on the outside.

    Probably contemplating where I should place myself
    They sent us off, and everything just settled into place, there wasn't a ton of jostling, but there was the occasional guy who had decided to go out as hard as he could and zig-zag his way to the finish that needed to be navigated in the beginning.

    As for the swim, it was pretty decent. Some guys really took off, and I never caught them, I think eventually they did stop pulling away so that was good. And there was another guy who was basically around the entire time. Though if I could have had a chance to talk to him afterwards I'd let him know if he can figure out how to swim straight he'd probably take 40 seconds off his time. The only real challenge for the swim was finding the finish line. When my wave started there were two small yellow buoys marking the exit, by the time I got back there were four more. At this point it's probably prudent to point out that they did have a huge arch, they just didn't blow it up, they ran out of time.

    There's the guy I was with the whole time
    And just like that he's gone

    I felt ok coming out of the water, ran to transition took my time getting my stuff together to let me head settle and then hopped on the bike.
    Waving to my family, a smile on my face must mean I'm doing ok :)
    The Bike
    I had overheard some guys talking about the course in transition where they said that the first half of the bike will feel slow, but not to sweat it because the second half will feel much faster. That actually helped a lot, because the first half did feel slow.

    The course is a mix between rural highways and medium traffic residential areas. There are several controlled intersections and even a couple where you have to cross against traffic. The bike course is the highlight of this race, the course itself is nothing spectacular, the roads a variable - smooth and rough with rolling hills. What makes it the highlight is that it was so well put together. All of the intersections are controlled and controlled well. It was well marked, there were lots of volunteers, two water pickups, and even people just hanging out watching the race go by. If the rest of the event was like this it would be a must do event.

    I was feeling ok on the bike. I only passed a couple of people, but spent most of the race getting passed. But when the race consists of roughly 400 people who mostly started behind you except for the elite group, I guess that's to be expected unless you're going to win it.

    Rolling in to T2 - there's a guy right in front of me getting ready to get in my way :)

    When I came into transition I was pretty disappointed, there were more people in my area than I was expecting, but I just did my thing and headed out.

    The Run
    The run was a two loop course that basically rounded the lake twice. The in the park run only lasts about half a mile, the rest of the time is outside of the park through neighborhoods. I wasn't feeling that awesome when I started, but I wasn't feeling terrible either. So I just focused on keeping my legs moving, and not slowing down too much.

    Per normal for me, I was getting passed quite a bit. But I was doing my fair share of passing too. At this point in the race the sprint and Olympic distance racers were mixed in together. You could tell a sprinter from an Olympian based on the color of their number. So I knew when I was passing someone who had likely passed me on a bike, or when someone came blazing by who was only running a 5k.

    There were only two distance markers, one on the first lap at mile 1, and one on the second lap at mile 4. Surprisingly you cannot see them both at the same time, but that's just because the second lap isn't an exact copy of the first lap. That played a little bit with my brain because I had forgotten to put my watch on after the bike so I didn't know how fast I was running, or how far we had gone. I put the misplaced watch out of my mind as fast as I could.

    There were an odd number of water stops, maybe 5. Usually they are near distance markers, here they seemed sort of randomly placed. No matter, it was nice, and the people manning them were nice too. The only downside was that when I went through the second time they were starting to run out of water. Now I knew that I wasn't near the end of the field of racers, if they were out of water for me, what was going to happen for the rest of the people.

    The best part of the run was the people who lived along it, there were many people out and cheering us on. It was great, some had music, some had water hoses out (thank you!) and some were telling us distances to the finish.

    Overall the run felt really good, after the first mile that seemed to drag on forever the rest went really fast. After a few miles I even picked a guy who I was catching very slowly as someone who would pull me to the end. The goal became to finish ahead of him. I caught him during one of his walk breaks, and yelled out "you have to keep running, I've been chasing you for four miles, you can do it!" I chatted with him, he had a GPS watch, so I asked him what his pace was. It was close to my goal pace, so I reasoned that meant I was doing better than planned. As I pulled away I gave him some encouragement and hoped I wouldn't see him again. I didn't.

    The Finish
    Remember when I said there were only two distance markers? Well really there were three - there was one about 100 yards from the end - it wasn't different than the others, just ... I don't even know what they were thinking.

    The final chute
    Nothing special to report about the finish, I had started picking up the pace around 4 miles and felt pretty good about that, so I was plenty tired. I didn't see a timer at the end, so I didn't really know how I had done. I met up with my wife and kids, and friend Sara and her kids. Grabbed a bite and sat around a little in the great afternoon weather.

    Me and the new baby!
     The Results

    Goal Actual
    Swim 28:45 25:59
    Bike 1:22:00 1:22:01
    Run 54:30 53:48
    Total 2:50 2:46:06

    The swim – That's about 5 seconds per hundred faster than I anticipated. The night before the race the water temp was 81, the morning of it was 77... my guess is the water didn't really cool 5 degrees over night. So had the water temp stayed high I probably would have fared better in the field, as it is 35th overall. As it was I was one of just a few people without a wetsuit, so I think I did alright :)
    The bike – Right on target; turns out the course is really 42 km, so that speed is really 19.2. Still pretty decent.

    The run – Two races in a row where I hit the run goal. I didn't walk at all and was able to "feel it" and hit the speed I was shooting for without relying on the Garmin.

    Overall I did pretty well, the race felt good, and while it's hard to tell how well I actually did (the posted results look a little funny - like the overall results show my AG place at 16/28, the AG results say 17/30.) It looks like I lost the most places on the bike which is sort of disappointing.

    Closing Comments
    I'm happy with my performance on this race - I'm not all that happy with this race as an event, but I do feel like I turned in a solid performance.

    There's nothing special about this race, and actually because of the lack of polish, the only reason I would do this race again is if it fits nicely with my other plans. This year this race fell on the same weekend as two other races, if that happens again next year this race will not win that battle.

    It's things like a difficult to understand swim course, not being done setting up before the swim started, and never having time to finish. Running out of water on the run course was pretty lame. It was hard to hear the announcers. And despite what I had read about this race previously, it's not actually spectator friendly.

    The hill where everything is allows you to see transition, but not the bike exit/entrance. You can watch the swim, but not quickly move from there to a swim entrance for cheering. It's basically just an area to hang out and not watch the race, in fact from the common area you cannot watch any part of the race but the swim. I also dislike not being able to park near the event. I'd chalk this all up to venue, this venue cannot really support this event.

    Again, thanks again to my wife. She braved three kids and a jogging stroller all piled onto a school bus to come cheer me on. You're awesome! Also thanks to my friends Tony and Sara who came out early to see me. Tony even snapped of the pictures from above.

    Tuesday, August 23, 2011

    Race Preview - Maple Grove Olympic Triathlon

    This will be my second Olympic distance triathlon, and the last triathlon of the season for me. I'm not quite sure what to make of this race, it's longer than the sprints I usually do, and my training has fallen off for a variety of reasons, including having a new baby last week. On the other hand I just had a personal best in the last race I did, and I have been having a great summer overall for training.

    Race Info
    The race in in Maple Grove, it's about an hour north of where we live. So I'll be trucking it up there the morning of. I'm sure it will remind me of the tris of last year in FL where we always seemed to be getting up in the middle of the night :)

    The swim is a little backwards triangle - the odd thing about this triangle though is that it's "backwards" from right to left. So instead of doing right turns we'll be doing left turns. I don't think it matters, but maybe. I'm sure this race will be wetsuit legal in the eyes of USAT, but I will be forgoing the wetsuit. Since I don't own one it's seems almost like an extension of race fees to rent one. We'll see how I do over 1500m without the aid of the suit :)

    The bike is a 26 mile sort of figure eight. It's not really a figure eight, because you don't ever cross the path of other riders in the sense that a figure eight would cause. But the course does go through the same intersection twice on opposite corners. While I haven't actually seen the course, I did plop it into Google Earth and did a pretty junky flyover, and take a peek at the elevation profile. The course looks pretty flat with not too many turns.

    The run is two loops, sort of. The first loop is the sprint loop, and the second loop is almost the same course with a little jaunt in a different direction for a bit.

    Course Map Note-

    Picture of the course


    So here's the deal - I find these two things ridiculous. Because this isn't my first rodeo I know the picture is suggesting that there are two courses in one picture, and because one overlaps the other, but only for part of it, and that piece seems to come after the start, I can assume there are two laps. But what's really confusing is when I try to put the words with the picture. Seriously, what is the deal with 8, A, B, C, 5? Hopefully the course is better marked, I'm sure it will be.

    Swim .9 miles28:451:40 per 100 yards
    Bike 26 miles1:22:0019 miles/hour
    Run 6.2 miles54:308:45 mins/mile

    Last year was the first year for this event, and while I've looked at the results, it's hard to gauge how well I'd have done in that event since the times vary drastically from what I normally see. So I'm not going to try to figure out ahead of time how well these times might fare against the competition.

    1:40 is ten seconds slower than the goal from the last race which I pretty much hit. The difference is that I'm swimming three times further. That time is also five full minutes slower than my first Olympic race, but that was with a wetsuit. I guess some of it is that when I got in the pool last the yards just didn't melt away like I wanted them too, so I'm a little worried about stamina.

    I put the bike pace at 19, I'm pretty sure that's doable for me and still have some steam left for the run. I actually really want to make it slower, but since I did so well in the last race I'll say that I can hold 19.

    For the run, I'm actually feeling pretty good going into the race. The last couple of runs have been pretty good for me, and assuming I don't have any problems with cramps I should be able to pull this one off. I now know that I can usually go harder than my brain says during the race I should be able to push to this if I start to fall off pace.

    I put another 4 minutes of transition in there, that's probably pretty realistic. We'll see, I'm going to try to focus a little more on the transition than the last few races. I'm not going to say I'm going to get down to two minutes, but hopefully it's not much more than 3.

    Closing Comments
    It's the last race of the year, and the second Olympic. I'm hoping to hit it pretty hard, and go out with a bang. After this race I'm taking a bunch of time off. After basically 17 months of 4-6 a day workouts I'm ready for a break.

    Sunday, August 7, 2011

    Race Review - Lakefront Days Triathlon

    This was my second time doing this race, two years ago it was my first triathlon. My overall goal was to do better than the first time, but a secondary goal was to move away from being a mid-pack racer. I have higher goals than that :)

    The Training
    In July I put 6-8 hours of training a week. Time wise the focus was biking, swimming then running. While I'm not quite sticking to the plan I hatched in May, the training is paying off, even if it sort of feels like it's on autopilot.

    Packet Pickup
    This is the second triathlon I've been a part of where someone else is allowed to pick up your packet, the first one was also this race two years ago. It feels funny, but at the same time I'm not too sure why USAT has that rule. So having my wife stop and pick up packets when she has time during the day is nice.

    Race Morning
    One of the great things about races in MN over FL is that they start later. The first wave of this race left at 8, and since we live about two miles from the course we left the house a little before seven and had plenty of time to get there and get prepped.

    Getting ready to head into transition
     This event had a 300 person cap and so, except for the elite people, the transition area was a free for all. This has a up-side and a downside. The upside is that you can choose where you go, I've not picked up on any pros or cons to bike placement in transition, so we just found some open spots and settled in. A downside is that the rows aren't labeled by bib number, so if you get a little out of whack during the race it may take a little longer to find your spot. Thankfully, some people are more aware of the downside than I am and bring things to mark their row. People in our row tied a red bandana to the end of the row, and someone else drew a large pink arrow on the ground, it was very helpful.

    A note about body marking - in all the races I can remember the markers they use are marginally painful, and leave the number marked in there so well you still have it faintly on your arm after a few days. Not at this race, the marker was nice and soft (and the girl who did it had some fantastic hand writing, it looked like she had stenciled it in there) and in the shower I was able to get it all off.

    After getting transition setup and chipped, and marked, we had some time to just sit and watch the crowd, it's my favorite way to start a race, nice and relaxed.

    The Swim
    There were three waves before me, elites, young men, young women. Since the swim start and exit are right next to each other it gave me a chance to see how fast the elites were coming in. I suspected the fastest swim times would come from that group. Since the heats left every three minutes it was fairly easy to estimate their times as they were coming out. The first elite swimmer exited the water just over 6 minutes.

    My sister-in-law was in the heat just before mine. We had joked a little that I might pass her in the water, she had said the swim would take her 20 minutes. At that speed I would expect to pass her in the first 50-100 yards. I was going to keep my eye out so I could give her a thumbs up as I cruised by.

    My daughter had just yelled at me "Put on your swimming hat!"
    Since I was pretty sure I was going to place high in the swim, and I could see congestion during the swim toward the inside of the course I took position on outside, but in front. The gun went off and I think I got out fast enough to avoid any of the churn. I settled into a pretty decent pace in the first 100 or so yards. There was a guy closer to the middle near me, and after a bit I saw a guy who had popped out to a big early lead - no worries though, I now know people fade quickly, and while this is not a long swim, I would likely catch him before the end. At the turn around point we were catching the people from the wave before us, and much to my surprise it was not little sister. She had grossly underestimated her capabilities. She had been worried about being the slowest, and I was sure at that point she knew people were behind her and that was making her feed good. About 100 yards later I did pass her. I flipped over on my back and waved until she came up for air. I made a little smile and off I went. There was some pretty heavy congestion near the end, but I just swam through it. I never did catch that guy, but I did significantly close the gap, he ended up 2 seconds faster than me (though overall I made up that time :)

    Smiling out of the water - that's a good sign
     I felt good coming out of the water, ran to transition and hopped on the bike.

    The Bike
    The plan was to push myself comfortably hard, use my knowledge of the course to know where it's easy to pick up speed and when it's best to conserve a little energy.

    The course is on rural highways, and the main benefit to being in the race is that there are enough other people on the road that I don't feel compelled to stay as close as I can to the shoulder which makes the ride much more comfortable. Overall I am really happy about the ride, I had my watch with me so I knew how fast I was going, but I didn't know average speed or elapsed time, which is probably good. I just like having the rough indication of how much effort I'm putting out to get to a desirable speed.

    I was feeling great on the bike. I was passing many more people than were passing me, and I was able to race my own race. A guy passed me in the first three miles, and about three miles later I passed him back - he just faded. As I rolled by he said "way to hold a good pace" I didn't see him again. Speaking of passing that guy, I noticed someone trying to pass me at the same time but then filed in behind me. That turkey stayed in my shadow for like 6 miles, as we were coming up to the second to last turn he called out "we're almost there, I've just been trying to keep up." It irked me a little, when I let up a little to get my legs ready to run and take some water he smoothed on by and we rolled into transition at the same time.

    Note on drafting: Drafting isn't allowed, but I saw a lot of it. There was the guy behind me, which I couldn't really see, but he was definitely camping back there. We passed a kid who was right on the back tire of someone else. When I passed him I picked up the pace to avoid forming a little train with a Jeremy locomotive. It was surprising, I've never really noticed it, and before this summer wouldn't have known why people did it, but now I know that it's a huge advantage. It's much easier to cruise behind someone who is blocking the wind for you.

    When I came into transition I knew I was in good shape overall, I knew I was doing a lot better than anticipated. It was basically empty, so there weren't that many people in front of me. Considering how many people started in front of me that was a good thing.

    The Run
    The run was a nice little jaunt around the lake. Some little hills, two water stops, and a mix of sun and shade. For all triathlons I think the run is the part I have the least invested in. I never seem to be able to do it as fast as I want or without stopping.

    After a little confusion on my part about making sure I had all my stuff I wanted on the run I took off. Empty transition had given me a good morale boost. When I glanced down to see my pace it said seven even, so I backed off a little. My goal for this race was 8:30, and from the past I know that means not leaving it all out there in the first half and steadily slowing down. It was also about this time my calves started to cramp.

    Calf cramps have been sort of nagging me for about a month, I get them when I swim or bike hard and apparently when I run hard. I have been trying to make sure my diet is in a good place. Extra potassium and plenty of water. Since it's not terrible, and it's often at the end of a workout I'd say I've been doing well at keeping it under control. But I'll have to try harder to make sure I am good and hydrated and filled with vitamins before races.

    The cramps faded before I could convince myself I needed to stop and stretch them out.

    Overall I am very happy with the run, I got passed by some people but it wasn't terrible, and I even passed two people. I did not stop at all, and in the water stops instead of slowing to take a drink I just used the water to cool me down. I had made sure to hydrate extra on the bike to take away the thirst "reason" to slow down.

    The Finish
    At about the 2.5 mile mark a woman passed me, I had picked her to be the third person I would (re)pass since she wasn't rocketing along. When I started to pick up the pace for the last mile in she was pretty far ahead, and I figured I had missed my opportunity. About 1/2 mile from the end I realized (from shouts in the crowd) that she was actually the first woman finisher. I was closing in on her quickly, but I have to admit that knowing that I was coming in before all the other women was taking the sting of waiting too long to reel her in.

    No smiles, but I was feeling good on the inside
    The Results

    The swim – This time is pretty decent, it's 5th overall, 2nd in my age group. I could probably hit it a little harder, but it's hard to say what impact that may have. Top 5 finish in the swim is decent, and the swim is such a small portion of overall time and place that I'm going to call this one good.

    The bike – That time is significantly faster than my goal time. I had put my goal speed at 18 - that time puts my official speed at 19.8 - though my Garmin says the course is longer than they do. The Garmin says my speed was 20.1. There was no wind to speak of, and I think that plays a factor in overall speed, but overall that time as still top 50 which is pretty dang good.

    The run – This is the first triathlon where I think I have hit my goal. I had chosen what I thought to be a pretty aggressive goal given my history of totally bonking on the run. But I stuck with it, gutted out the end and basically met my goal.

    Overall I did much better than expected. 55/270 overall, 10/28 in my age group. I lost a lot of places on the run. If I can bring down my run time by five or six minutes then I will finally be a place where transition times are killing me. They are still significantly slower than people around me, but one thing at a time.

    Closing Comments
    This is by far my best race, I did much better than I thought I would and I felt pretty good doing it. There's still plenty of room for improvement but I'm not feeling like all my efforts are for naught.

    There's nothing special about this race in terms of the race itself. But it is a much better race than it was two years ago. They added a rope down the middle of the swim course to keep people from crossing into oncoming traffic. They added finisher's medals and post race snacks. The workers were friendly, the announcer was lively and did a good job of not sounding like he was saying the same thing over and over (even though he was.) I will do this race again.

    I had a great time racing with my sister-in-law, she's got a great attitude and did really well. She says she's excited to get better, and I hope I get to be part of that. It's fun to race with people you know, and it's really fun to see them get better. I also get a personal satisfaction of trying to match other people's improvements in my own improvements, it's like motivation by association. I wouldn't say it's a competition, but it does push me.

    Again a special thanks to my wife, she's a great supporter and honestly without that support I would not be able to race. It's also great fun to hear her and the kids yelling at me at transition and the finish.

    Tuesday, August 2, 2011

    July Training Notes

    This month my totals look like this

    Swim32,500 yards9:45 hours
    Bike287 miles15:40 hours
    Run30 miles5:00 hours

    I can honestly say I'm ready for a break. I think I've been going solid with 5-7 days a week for 14 months and it's starting to creep into my brain. I have to dig pretty deep to get up at 5, or rush through dinner to get in a long workout.

    Swimming yardage jumped up even though time didn't really change that much. I'm just swimming faster.

    Biking miles went up too, also without more time. Biking faster - I would have liked to pull this one up further, but I have not been sticking to plan overall. I feel like my bike endurance and speed has come a long way this summer so far though, so I'm happy about that.

    I have a sneaking suspicion that putting running in maintenance mode is going to bite me on the last two races. Time will tell, but the last two times I went out I hit the wall HARD, especially on the last brick.

    Friday, July 29, 2011

    Race Preview - Lakefront Days Triathlon

    It's come full circle. I'm going to redo the race that started it all for me. I'll admit it, this race has a special place in my memories - those that know me well know that sometimes my memory is sketchy. There are many things I don't remember, or don't remember well. I have a decent memory of this race, but the only things that really pop to mind when I think about it are
    • Cold - standing around waiting for the race to start
    • Hot - The feeling of death on the bike
    • Tired - Crossing the line, I was T.I.R.E.D
    The risk of missing this race is high - the order for kid 3 has been placed, and is due to start delivery any day now. No worries, I'll take family over a race any day.

    Race Info
    The race is in Prior Lake, just down the road from where I live. So close that when I do my mid-week "long" run I run to, then along, then away from the same path the race's run course covers. I am also, now, very familiar with the bike course as it's got some portions that are favorites with the local biking group.

    The swim is an out and back, which is sort of funny now that I've been on enough different courses. Keep the buoys to your right and you're fine. That ALMOST works, except that not everyone knows how to do it. So the real trick is keep sighting and try to notice when someone is WAY off course and swimming right at you. There will be people there with wetsuits I'm sure, I will not be one of them. 400 meters I can cover with no wetsuit.

    The bike is a 13.5 loop with what I guess would be called rolling hills. Here's my brief description of this ride
    Start - slight uphill, turn right level out, slightly steeper short uphill, crest the hill, short fast downhill. Flatten out, false flat, another downhill that immediately turns into an uphill, round a corner on that hill, more hill, flatten out, more hill, turn at a stop sign, more hill - large fast downhill. Flat for a good while, turn just before ominous looking hill that isn't.
    Half way point.
    More flat, small downhill leading into short deceptive uphill. Flat - mixed with false flats for a couple more miles, turn, small downhill, turn, 2 miles of small hill, turn, basically small downhill all the way back to the start (try not to run over runners on the trail for the last half mile or so.) You feel the hills right at the start, just before the big downhill, and right after the small deceptive hill. Other than that it's pretty much pick your cadence and go.

    The run is a 3.3 mile loop in the park. It's got some little climbs and some little descents, nothing that will destroy me (hopefully :) There are some shaded areas, and some sunny areas. What there normally isn't any of, is wind, there is tons of shelter on this trail, so if it's hot, it's hot.

    Primary goal - do better than last time. If I fail at that for any reason other than accident I will probably try to convince my wife to run over my arm with the van so I have a good excuse to stop trying :)
    Swim 1/4 mile6:351:30 per 100 yards
    Bike 13.5 miles45:0018 miles/hour
    Run 3.3 miles28:008:30 mins/mile

    1:23 puts me around top 35% overall and top 1/2 in my AG. I am curious about the swim, 6:35 looks to be enough to get top 5 overall in the swim, which worries me a bit because that may mean I've done some math wrong.

    1:30 is roughly what I do for medium-hard swims when I'm training. Heck, I did nine of them this morning during the first set and was getting plenty of rest. Then again that's in a pool with nobody to swim around, but it's also not in a race where I will try to insert myself at the front of the pack right away to avoid water punchers.

    I put the bike pace at 18, I'm pretty sure that's doable for me and still have some steam left for the run.

    Since I've not done much running it's hard to gauge on if that is achievable after the other stuff. I know 8:30 is in the relm of possibility, and I know that I usually have some energy left at the end of these things, so I'm going to try to push it. Heart over mind..

    I put another 3 minutes of transition in there, it actually seems pretty fast for me, but seriously I have no idea. Overall conditioning has been the focus. If I thought I could make 10 minutes up and be in the running for a medal I'd worry about it, but for now I'll just not sweat it.

    Closing Comments
    I'm looking forward to this race, it took the wind out of my sails last time. I'm going to have a good time.